The Bridge to the Sky
Dandelion perched on the top of the rocky pinnacles, the broomstick clasped between her thighs. Her face and bare arms were covered in scratches, but still, on her face was mustered a look of intense determination. She took a deep breath.
"Dandelion!" yelled her younger sister Willow from the ground. "You've tried four times. Please give up- you might hurt yourself!"
"Shut up!" said Dandelion. "You're ruining my concentration." She took a steady grip with the crumbling rock beneath her feet, and closed her eyes, straining.
The skirt of her dark dress quivered in the air, and flared out around her, despite the non-existent breeze. Her feet lifted from the ground, and her expression transformed into one of triumph.
She drifted forward on her broomstick, wobbling a little, but slowly increasing speed. She leant forward.
But then, she lurched ahead, and spiralled down to the ground, the broomstick slipping out from her grip. She landed with an almighty thump on the grass. A few seconds after, the broom fell towards her, bashing her on the head.
Willow ran to her. "Are you alright?" she asked, bending down onto her knees beside her. Dandelion replied by sitting up and rubbing the crown of her head.
"Ouch," she said.
Willow tried to stifle the noise, but one small giggle escaped her, her eyes dancing with mirth. "Well, I did tell you-" she begun.
"Oh, be quiet," said Dandelion, her cheeks stained bright red. She stood up, pulling herself to her full height in a display of pride, and marched off into the forest, her broom clasped tightly in her hand. The bristles now stuck out in all directions, mirroring her skewed hair which was stacked like a haystack.
Willow hurried after her. The canopy of leaves stretched over them, sunlight filtering through in bright rays.
"Why don't you just let Mama teach you?" she asked, trotting to keep up with her sister's huge proud strides. "She'd be mad if she found out you were practising on your own."
"Mama's busy," said Dandelion shortly. "She's got much more important things to than teaching me. Besides, I can teach myself. I'll become the best witch ever, all on my own. I'll be so good, even the Priestesses will respect me."
They now came out into a clearing, where, in the distance, they could see a long white bridge stretching up into the sky, made of gleaming marble. It was so tall that it seemed to reach into the clouds.
"And," continued Dandelion, her breath becoming short and excited, "they won't even stop me when I say I want to climb that. If I flew from there, my feet would skim the clouds!" She pointed to the bridge, and Willow stared at her, shocked.
"The Priestesses would never let you past!" she said. "You know they hate us. And the Heavenly Stairs is a holy place. They don't even let normal people across."
Dandelion pursed her lips angrily. "Holy-shmoly," she sung. "I just think it'd make a great launch pad." She gazed towards it, her face lighting up in exaltation. "Let's go take a closer look."
She grabbed Willow's hand and ran with her through the trees, leaves crunching rhythmically under their feet. They burst out of the edge of the forest, slowing down to a walk.
Close up, the great bridge seemed to tower even higher, a ceremonial spot for priestesses to commune and offer prayers to the sky-god. Beneath, dwarfed by it, was a domed temple, made of the same white stone. People flocked to it, like the pigeons that made their nests in the rafters, perched on the temple steps.
They followed the swathe of men and women up these steps, peering inside curiously.
"It's so busy- do you think something's going on?" said Willow softly.
Sticking to the safety of the crowd, they made their way into the Cloisters, a huge circular room lined with statues. Hollow and dank, it made Willow shiver. The people flowed to the other side of the room, where a woman stood uplifted, entirely obscured by her layered robes and gauze veils.
"Oh," said Dandelion boredly. "The High Priestess is here. That's it." In the empty half of the room, she turned to regard the statue behind her absently. It held little interest to her; these were sights she had seen dozens of times before.
The sharp clacking of shoes echoed emptily towards them, accompanied by the sound of tinkling bells. They watched as a severe woman with iron grey hair approached them. She wore trailing green robes and a veil that covered the bottom half of her face. Her clothes were sown with small golden bells, which sounded when she made the slightest movement. She looked at Dandelion and Willow imperiously, her eyes lingering on their dark simple cotton dresses and their messy hair. When they came to rest on Dandelion's broomstick, her face darkened.
"What do you mean by loitering about the temple?" she said sharply. "If you're not here to pray, then get out."
Willow shrank back, bowing her head, but anger flared in Dandelion, and she took a step forward.
"We've as much right to be here as anybody else," she said.
"Filthy witch-children will never be welcome in the halls of Nihuel," the Priestess spat. "You should feel privileged that we allow your kind in His almighty presence."
"Well maybe we don't want to be in his almighty presence," said Dandelion, her anger erupting. Willow gasped, and the Priestess looked as though she could not believe her ears. Dandelion stood her ground, glaring at the old woman.
But before anything else could be said, Willow grabbed Dandelion by the arm and pulled her away, rushing out of the temple and down the steps, darting behind the corner.
"Are you crazy?" she said. "We could have been in so much trouble! It's like you want us to be beaten!"
Dandelion looked as though she was going to argue, but then she looked hard at Willow, and her face sunk. She bit her lip, and turned her head away, ashamed.
"I know… I'm sorry. It's just the way they treat us… it just makes me so mad. They think they're so much better than us, like we're dirt under their feet. Surely it makes you angry too?"
"Of course," said Willow sadly. "But… I don't want to cause any trouble for Mama."
Checking there was no one looking, they moved swiftly away from the temple, leaving it behind them. But suddenly, they found themselves by the great bridge, and Dandelion's face lit up once more.
"Look!" she said. "The Priestesses aren't here. They must all be inside the temple. We could go up quickly- and no one would notice-" she took a great bound towards it, but immediately Willow jumped for her wrist, holding her back.
"No!" she hissed. "Didn't you just hear what I said? If they catch us up there, they'll cut our hands off. Besides, you can't fly properly yet!"
Dandelion looked at her oddly, and burst out into laughter.
"I didn't really mean I wanted to jump off the top!" she said, clutching her chest. "That was just a daydream. All I want is to have a look." She tried to pull away, but Willow held onto her tightly.
"Didn't you just say you were sorry?" she demanded.
"You idiot Willow," said Dandelion, snatching her arm away. "I wasn't sorry for what I did. I'd do anything to get back at the Priestesses, to make them mad. I felt bad because I thought I'd almost got you into trouble. I wouldn't let them hurt you." She darted forward to the steps, but after taking three, turned back around to face Willow. "Stay here if you like," she added, before she turned back, rushing up the glowing staircase.
Willow bit her fingernails, glancing behind her, and then hurried after Dandelion. "Wait for me!"
The ground shrunk beneath them as they made their way up the steps, the wind picking up. They rose higher and higher, reaching heights they had never imagined before.
Finally, they reached the top, and gazed down in amazement at their tiny world stretching out around them. A sea of trees swathed the earth, the town running down like water through the valley. On the horizon, they could see the first gleam of the emerald ocean.
"There!" said Willow, pointing a patch in the thick forest. "Dandelion, there's our house!" In between the dense greenery, a small wooden ramshackle house stood alone. A wisp of smoke was curling up from the chimney.
"I wonder what we're having for dinner," Dandelion pondered aloud.
This otherworldly beauty had captured them in a dreamy haze, a sense of unrealness. But a moment later- this was shattered. The Priestesses were making their way up either side of the bridge. They were headed by the High Priestess, her dozen veils still in the breeze.
"Oh no!" wailed Willow, the hand of icy fear clasping her heart. She rushed to Dandelion and grabbed at the front of her dress, tears springing to the well of her eyes. "They must have seen us! They're going to catch us and chop off our hands, Dandelion! And they'll punish Mama too, they'll get her fired from her job!"
The Priestesses were coming closer; they did not hurry, but instead moved forward in graceful strides. They displayed the complacent triumph of a cat who knows its prey is trapped.
"Calm down," said Dandelion. "I'll get us out. I told you, I won't let them hurt you."
Despite the peril, Dandelion's face was shining again with that look of intense determination, an expression that set her whole face alight. She put her broomstick onto the smooth marble wall protecting them from the edge, and clambered up herself after it. She clasped the broom between her legs.
"Get on the back then," she said.
"But we haven't learned to fly!" cried Willow. "We'll be killed!"
Dandelion shook her head, her eyes shining brightly. "I know I can do it this time. Now, I have a reason. I have to protect you."
Willow didn't know what to say. Dandelion held out a hand towards her, the fierce wind whipping her hair in her face which was lit with a restless delight.
"It wasn't just a daydream, then?" Willow said.
"My daydreams are there to be made into realities."
Reaching forward, she took Willow's hand and pulled her up onto the wall. Willow moved behind her, and held onto her sister tight. The Priestesses were approaching closer now, hurrying.
"Help me make it work Willow," said Dandelion. "Just will it up. It'll work if we will it."
Willow closed her eyes and concentrated, visualising herself in the air. She felt Dandelion's strong determination flow into her, thick and powerful.
As the robed Priestesses reached the top, their feet lifted from the ground and they flew, their hair splaying around them. They swooped down into the air, skimming the trees, their faces alive with joy. They flew higher, higher even than the sparkling bridge, and vanished into the never-ending sky.